24-year-old Serena Lee is living proof a social vision can grow into a highly sustainable business if you’ve got the smarts and the right attitude.
“An attitude change is the first step towards reducing environmental impact.”
––Serena Lee, Melbourne.
“I can do it.”
Serena had a vision, and, like so many of her Millennial peers, she designed herself a way to grow it successfully, and quite literally. Her co-vision with business partner, Geert Hendrix was to see all urban Melbourne buildings fitted with small scale indoor farming systems in a bid to cut down food waste, promote sustainable living on a grander scale and breathe new life into city living.
Serena told Start-up Daily back in 2017 what she ultimately visualised,
“An achievable starting point was a scaled down version of an indoor farm for restaurants and venues. The thinking behind this was – if we have to start small, how can we make the strongest impact?”
It seems pretty futuristic. But, sure enough, just two years later, and socially idealistic Millennial, Lee, is a few steps closer to her dream with the success of sustainable social enterprise start-up, Farmwall.
Farmwall is a closed loop, zero-waste food system, installed into urban buildings and serviced on a subscription basis. Namely, for the production of micro-herbs using aquaponics.
The technology sees a futuristic aquaponic system (in a small scale) built into urban cafes, restaurants and office buildings and serviced by Farmwall. Growers (subscribers) are able to use the micro-herbs––eat them–– and reduce packaging waste (among plenty of other benefits.) The set-up works like a natural ecosystem, with fish at the bottom producing ammonia which gets transformed into nitrate which helps feed the plants (in this case microherbs) that grow in the top. With a subscription, you get weekly visits from Farmwall, who top up plants and maintain the system (and feed the fish!)
Currently, the vertical gardens are installed in cafes restaurants, homes, offices––even basement carparks of office buildings. The structures allow inner-city dwellers and workers to breathe a little cleaner, live a little greener and get their hands dirty while doing their bit for the environment. It’s part smart business and part therapeutic for the hospitality industry. And it’s just what Serena Lee and her business partner, Geert Hendrix, were aiming for––well, actually, they ultimately wanted to see all city skyscrapers decorated top to bottom with vertical gardens, but we might have to wait a few years for that. (Though, it will happen, according to Lee!)
So how did Serena Lee get turn an urban farming subscription business into a reality?
How else do Millennials get shit done? They network. Farmwall is a crowdfunding success story. Serena and Geert aimed to reach $30,000 through crowdfunding back in 2017. And with a great Comms design, marketing plan, an eager target market (mainly chefs), and a clear vision, Farmwall managed to raise $32,000 in their 2017 campaign which literally kickstarted the business and gave Serena the platform she needed to grow her ideas in the big city.
Farmwall now has staff across Melbourne and Sydney, operating out urban farms to service their city-based Farmwalls, they’ve also recently partnered with portfolio management group Mirvac to launch their Cultivate urban farming project, installing Farmwall’s in Westpac bank’s Sydney HQ. Bringing a greener, sustainable vision into the corporate space.
The vertical gardens have also infiltrated some of the most popular venues in Melbourne including booming Millennial hospitality hub, Worksmith (more on them another day) and extravagant Insta-famous CBD cafe, Higher Ground.
Despite how it looks though, Serena doesn’t have a background in hospitality, or horticulture, or farming. She’s actually a Communication Designer ‘with commercial flare’––according to her LinkedIn bio. Her background is in branding, design and she also did a 2-year stint with the design departments at Monash University.
But, at 24, this company Director is killing it in the social enterprise space and has really set herself up for a sustainable future in whichever field she chooses. The greener pastures seem to be where she’s standing however, her successes with Farmwall have already seen her snag a place in Smart Company’s ’30 under 30,’ and she’s certainly in great company there.
Lee is just one example of Millennials, not only finding meaningful careers, but adopting corporate strategies to build social enterprise and hustle their way to a better future for their peers––and, more importantly, doing it for, and by themselves.
It’s the ultimate rebellion.